BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Buffalo police body-camera footage of a raid in January shows a chaotic scene at a duplex on Oakdale Place, where officers said they were there to provide security for armed bounty hunters searching for a fugitive.
The raid, which started on January 10 and continued through the next morning, is the subject of a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of Buffalo, a Pennsylvania bail company, two unknown bounty hunters, and unnamed city officers.
The attorney for the homeowner’s family and the upstairs tenants described the footage as an “absolute outrage.”
Jake Reinhardt, the owner of the duplex on Oakdale Place off Seneca Street, constantly asked the police officers and bounty hunters for a search warrant.
At least one officer and bounty hunter told Reinhardt that a search warrant existed, but one was never presented to him. Reinhardt also pleaded with one of the bounty hunters to drop his gun because his fiancé and 3-year-old child were awake and inside, but he refused.
With long guns drawn, the bounty hunters barreled through the front door and into Reinhardt’s first-floor home as he continued to demand that they show him a search warrant. They were searching for Reinhardt’s brother, who jumped a $5,000 bail bond for misdemeanors in Pennsylvania.
But his brother was not there and has never lived there, Reinhardt said. “Get off my property,” he told an officer who was in a hallway off the front porch of his house.
“I don’t have to,” the police officer responded.
“I want you off my property,” Reinhardt said.
“They’re searching your house,” the same officer responded. “I’ll leave when they leave.”
Reinhardt asked police officers several times why they were allowing the raid to happen without a search warrant. At this time, Reinhardt thought the bounty hunters were law enforcement.
“You’re letting this go down? No [expletive] search warrant?” Reinhardt yells.
“They have one,” an officer replied, referring to the bounty hunters.
Reinhardt asked the officer for his name, to which the officer replied, “We don’t give our names anymore.”
Anthony Rupp, the attorney for both families and Reinhardt’s mother, whose home was also searched by the bounty hunters earlier, said the bodycam footage “clearly” shows two different officers crossing a Fourth Amendment threshold by entering hallways connected to the front and back doors and flashing their flashlights inside.
“They had no search warrant,” Rupp said. “They had no warrant whatsoever and the police were backing [the bounty hunters] up.”
NEWS10’s sister station in Buffalo first reported this incident in February, which resulted in an investigation by the Erie County District Attorney’s Office. That investigation is not finished, said a spokeswoman for the district attorney. The Buffalo Police Department also has opened an internal investigation.
Buffalo Common Council President Darius Pridgen asked the city attorney’s office to provide council members with the police department’s policies and procedures that govern how officers should interact with bounty hunters.
However, our affiliate learned in February that the city does not have any such policies, despite the 1998 death of a city police officer who was struck by a vehicle while helping bounty hunters nab a suspect. The Buffalo Police Department declined to comment, citing the district attorney’s investigation.
In January, before the lawsuit was filed, Buffalo Police Capt. Jeff Rinaldo said that, although he had not seen the bodycam footage nor spoken with any of the officers involved, a detective told him that none of the officers entered the house or conducted any kind of search. “They stepped into the front of the hallway there, but my understanding is that they never went into the upstairs or downstairs apartments,” Rinaldo said at the time.
Rupp disagreed. “Buffalo police were absolutely illegally in the house, unconstitutionally in the house without a search warrant,” he said. Rupp waited months for the city to release the body cam footage. He eventually filed an Article 78 lawsuit in March to compel the city to release it.
Rupp said the footage and audio reveal how officers treated Reinhardt as a criminal. In fact, one officer mentioned that Reinhardt, “is gonna get his [expletive] locked up, too.”
“I knew from the surveillance footage from Mr. Reinhardt’s house that this was a bad situation, and it really became all the more clear when I looked at the body cam footage,” Rupp said. “Just outrageous behavior by City of Buffalo policemen, just rude behavior. Clearly not understanding the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution or even who they were partnered with on this raid.”
Indeed, Reinhardt and the upstairs tenants have exterior and interior cameras that captured some of the raid on video. The armed bounty hunters searched Reinhardt’s house, and are accused of pointing their guns at his then-pregnant fiancé while she held their 3-year-old child. The toddler can be heard wailing in fear.
Meanwhile, Reinhardt continued to demand a search warrant. “Let me see a search warrant, man,” Reinhardt said to a bounty hunter.
“Thank you. Appreciate it,” the bounty hunter replied as he exited the duplex.
“Let me see a search warrant,” Reinhardt demanded.
“I’ll bring it to you.”
Neither the bounty hunters nor the police department ever produced a search warrant. Instead, a bounty hunter handed Reinhardt a bail slip. It was at that time that Reinhardt realized the two armed men were not police officers, but bounty hunters.
Bounty hunters are private citizens granted special privileges from an 1872 Supreme Court decision. Those privileges can exceed what law enforcement officers are legally allowed to do, such as extraditions across state lines and entering a fugitive’s home without a search warrant.
“And the police were backing them up and speaking up for them, and telling the homeowner when he was begging for their help that these guys had a search warrant for the premises, which couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s a complete lie,” Rupp said.
“Any American citizen watching these videos should be absolutely outraged at the plain, obvious, continuous, intentional violation of Mr. Reinhardt’s rights and that of his young family.”